FOR someone who hails from Guildford, was privately educated and spent most of his formative years playing rugby union, Castleford is certainly quite a departure.
However, for Michael Channing, the young centre now making his way with the town’s league side after moving to West Yorkshire last summer, it has proved a perfect match.
“It’s different,” he laughed, ahead of returning to his former club tomorrow night when high-flying Castleford Tigers face London Broncos.
“I’d never been up north before in my life apart from when I had games (with Broncos) and then I’d only play at the stadium and go home.
“But I love it here. Everyone is just so nice … people up north are a lot nicer than the southerners!
“Obviously, though, the sport itself is really big here as well so that’s good – to see great followers and all the fan base.
“We didn’t have that with London. I used to hate coming here (Castleford) with them as it was too loud.”
Channing, 21, will come face-to-face with some of his closest friends when Castleford – whose 100 per cent start to the season was ended by Salford Red Devils on Sunday – venture to Barnet for the televised fixture.
“I lived with Kieran Dixon, Will Lovall, Erjon Dollapi and Mike McMeeken so it was a pretty full house and you can imagine the sort of things we got up to,” he smiled.
“It was in the middle of Kingston. We were given an Academy house by the club and it was good living with them day in, day out.
“I still speak to them all the time. Living with them like that means they are a lot of my real close friends and I’d been playing with them too for nearly three years.
“It’ll be interesting to play against them now and have a go at my old club.”
Of course, struggling London are being written off as relegation fodder having lost all six games so far, their latest reverse being Friday’s 54-6 loss at Leeds Rhinos.
“They keep getting new players drafted in week in, week out,” said Channing, about a side that has undergone a huge player turnover amid so much financial uncertainty in the last 12 months.
“But I think – now they’ve got all the players set down there –you can see they’re building as a team.
“Against Leeds it was a heavy defeat but you could see glimpses of real quality coming out. I think that’s a good thing. And it’s only early.
“We’re not going down there thinking anything is easy. We know we have to be at our best.”
Channing realises he has a lot to thank London for after his initial dream of playing Premiership rugby union was scuppered.
“I started union when I was five years old, eventually got into Harlequins Academy and then went on to the London Irish Academy until I was 17 or 18,” he explained.
“Then I got cut from that but then picked up again by Harlequins (London) RL.
“They asked if I fancied playing some league and, obviously, I’d never thought about it before as everything I did where I came from was all really union-orientated.
“It was a lot different. I remember my first training session and not having a clue what was going on but got into it and things have gone really well since then.
“I played fly-half at union but obviously to play half in league you have to know the game – and I didn’t have an idea.
“So I thought I’d stand a bit wider, score some tries and I might be all right.”
After debuting in 2012, Channing scored two tries in 18 Super League appearances for London but was not offered a new deal for this season.
Castleford agreed to take him on loan last July, though, and he did enough with three tries in four games to secure a two-year contract from Daryl Powell.
“It was not a forced decision as such but we had our mid-season reviews at London and Tony Rea said he wasn’t looking to sign me again so I got in touch with my agent who said there were a few clubs interested,” recalled Channing, who is ever-present this term.
“Cas’ wanted me there and then so I thought if a club wants me that bad I’m going to go.
“It was obviously tough to leave all my friends and family but I couldn’t be happier with the decision I’ve made. I’m glad I did it.
“I don’t think I’ve got a point to prove on Thursday. I’ll just play like I would against any team regardless of my history.
“I’m at a club at the moment who like the way I’m playing. They’ve been teaching me a lot of stuff and I’m still learning, but Powelly is really bringing the best out of me.”
Young winger James Clare is set for his first game of the season tomorrow night after Powell left Richard Owen out of his 19-man squad. Brad Day, a 19-year-old second-row from Hunslet Warriors, may also make his Super League debut.
Hull will be without captain Gareth Ellis for their Tetley’s Challenge Cup fourth-round tie against Salford after he was given a two-match ban.
The former England forward submitted an early-guility plea to a grade C charge of making a dangerous shoulder charge during his side’s 7-0 home defeat by Widnes. Ellis will miss Friday’s home match against Salford as well as the cup tie six days later.